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Changing demographics means boomers face new challenges

In 2011, the first baby boomers will turn 65. Many of our "boomers" are now "zoomers," enjoying life while also helping their parents day-to-day.

And that can be a source of stress. Because what will happen when zoomers lose their "zoom" and the baby boom generation itself begins to need some assistance.

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In 2011, the first baby boomers will turn 65. Many of our "boomers" are now "zoomers," enjoying life while also helping their parents day-to-day.

And that can be a source of stress. Because what will happen when zoomers lose their "zoom" and the baby boom generation itself begins to need some assistance.

Canada's population is definitely changing.

A Statistics Canada news release, headlined "Population projections for Canada: provinces and territories, 2005 to 2031," estimates that seniors 65 and over will number between 4.8 million and 6.6 million by 2031, or roughly 23 to 25 per cent of the population.

The projections even took a stab as far ahead as 2056, when the number of seniors 80 and over is expected to triple, to one in 10 people.

This shifting, aging, demographic will no doubt have an impact. Will there be a greater potential for seniors re-entering the workforce? Increased investment in seniors recreation programs?

It also raises the issue of caregiving. While long-term care facilities are receiving government investment (more than $46 million in this province in budget 2010), caregiving by families is still provided at these facilities and many seniors who require some assistance choose to remain in their homes.

What resources will we have to help care for seniors who require assistance? How much of the day-to-day care will fall to families, friends and neighbours?

°°°

Take the age group of those 45 and older. In 2002, just over 2 million Canadians in this category reported they were providing care for a senior who was a family member or friend.

By 2007, that number had risen to almost 2.7 million people aged 45 and over who were now caregivers.

That's one in five.

The information comes from an October 2008 Statistics Canada article entitled "Eldercare: what we know today."

Of course, the age group "45 and older" is pretty broad.

Breaking it down, as of 2007, three-quarters of people between 45 and 64 were providing care for a senior.

Sixteen per cent of people 65 to 74 were providing care, and eight per cent of people 75 and older were doing the same - perhaps performing household chores, changing clothes, reminding loved ones to take medications and/or driving them to and from doctors' appointments.

One in every four people providing care for seniors were seniors themselves.

As our population ages, how will this number change? What will it mean?

°°°

Francine Russo has covered aging and the baby boomer beat for Time magazine, and is the author of "They're Your Parents Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy."

Having interviewed family after family, Russo writes about everything from the need to recognize an emerging frailty or health problem in the family, to decision making with mentally capable seniors who may still require assistance, to working with families to assist parents with dementia.

She raises questions raised by some of the people she's interviewed.

On arguments: "Your dad won't take his pills, goes out without his oxygen tank and drives away the aides you hire. Besides wringing your hands, what can you do?"

On the selection of decision makers: "If we have been given this authority, we may ask ourselves, 'Am I parent to my parent?' If we are not given the power, we question, at some level, 'What does it mean that my brother is making decisions that my parents used to make, decisions that affect all of us? And why him? Why not me?'"

Over 265 pages, she confronts a myriad of issues, not all easily resolved.

"Often no one in the family wants to see that a change has come," states Russo. "As adult children, we don't want to see our parents as people with failing bodies who are likely to need assistance and care. After all, they are people who have always cared for us, raising us as children, being our parents throughout our lives, loving, approving, criticizing, demanding."

°°°

Another thing to remember is that when parents or friends need help, it may not always be an opportune time for the people who find themselves having to be caregivers.

Consider that common label "the sandwich generation."

"In 2007, nearly 43 per cent of the caregivers were between the ages of 45 and 54, the age at which many Canadians still have children living at home," according to "Eldercare: what we know today."

They are working to raise their own children and then being asked to add to that the needs of a parent or parents.

Of course, caregivers have other considerations that can arise, from job changes to relationships.

For those in this province feeling the pressure, there are ways to find help.

Jill Barron, a peer advocate manager at the Seniors Resource Centre, said caregiver stress is well recognized.

"They may be feeling frustrated or exhausted or stressed and they need someone to talk to," said Barron, who suggested joining a caregiver support group for help or calling the toll-free, confidential help line (726-2370, toll free 1-888-571-2273) maintained by the centre and its community partners.

The line receives about 40 calls a month from caregivers around the province.

"(The callers) ask about the supports that are out there. Things like home care, respite care - for example, if they're caring for their parents and they are going on vacation and don't know what to do," Barron said.

Sometimes, she added, it is about simply directing caregivers to where they can find the help they need.

"They may know that it's out there, but they may not know the right person to call," she said.

Barron said a caregiver guide is currently in the works, with support from the provincial office for aging and seniors.

Aside from the guide and other offerings from the resource centre, Barron said the province could also use more adult day programs, community-based caregiver organizations, tax credits and more flexible services for caregivers.

Helping those who help others is something to think about now, in preparation for the future.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Weblinks

www.seniorsresource.ca

www.yourparentstoo.com

Organizations: Statistics Canada, Time magazine, Seniors Resource Centre

Geographic location: Canada

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